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How to pass your driving test first time

Oct 15, 2021

Eager to take to the roads solo? Up against a job-related deadline for getting your full driving licence? Or just tired of endlessly practising parallel parking?

Learning to drive can be an expensive and time-consuming business. No matter how well you get on with your driving instructor or supervisor, you’re undoubtedly looking forward to gaining your independence!

So read on to find out how to maximise your chances of passing your theory and practical driving tests first time around – and how learner driver insurance will keep you covered.

Learning to drive: the basics

First of all, it’s essential to understand the hurdles you’ve got to get past.

To learn to drive in the UK, you need to get a provisional licence. You must be 17 before you can legally get behind the wheel of a car (or 16 for people with certain disabilities).

Then you can drive only under supervision from someone over the age of 21 who’s had a full driving licence for more than three years for the relevant category of vehicle. They’ve got to be ready to take over if necessary, so browsing their mobile phones while you drive is not ok!

You’ll also need to be covered by insurance. Most learners get formal teaching from driving instructors, and are covered by their policies. But it’s a good idea to practise as much as possible by asking friends or family to accompany you, in which case you could well need learner driver insurance

This is a time-limited policy that covers you while you’re learning to drive. You can either take it out on your own vehicle, or on one belonging to a friend or family member. It means that if you’re in an accident while driving their vehicle, their own No Claims Bonus won’t be affected.

Once you’re ready, you’ll need to take both a driving theory and a practical test, both of which have several elements. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.

The theory test

First off, you need to take your theory test. There are two parts to this: a set of 50 multiple choice questions, followed by a video-based hazard perception test.

The multiple choice questions are all based on the Highway Code. It’s a computer test, so you just touch the screen to choose your answer. If you make a mistake, it’s simple to deselect your choice and make another.

You have 57 minutes to answer all questions, and you need to get 43/50 right to get a pass.

The hazard perception test involves watching several one-minute clips filmed from the perspective of a car driver, and clicking on any hazards you spot. You need to score 44/75 to pass.

What is the practical driving test?

Once you’ve passed your theory test, you have two years in which to take your practical test. This is the bit that most people dread! But remember: if your driving instructor thinks you’re ready, then you are.

The test has five parts. It begins with an eyesight check: you need to read a number plate from 20 metres away. If you can’t, your test will come to an end then and there – but you are of course allowed to wear glasses or contact lenses if you need to.

Then there are ‘show me, tell me’ vehicle safety questions. The ‘tell me’ question will be at the beginning of your test: you might be asked to describe how to check tyre pressure, for example. The ‘show me’ question will be while you’re driving: you will be required to perform a simple function such as de-misting the front windscreen. If you get one or both wrong, it counts as a minor error.

The general driving ability test involves you driving safely in different road and traffic environments, following your examiner’s directions.

You will also need to show you can reverse your vehicle: your examiner will ask you either to parallel park, reverse into a bay, or reverse along the right-hand side of the road for two car lengths.

Finally, you’ll need to drive independently following either a sat nav or traffic signs for about 20 minutes.

Afterwards, you’ll be told then and there by your examiner whether you’ve passed or failed. Hopefully, it’s time for congratulations – you’re a fully fledged driver! Time to swap your learner driver insurance for a policy suitable for new drivers.

What are minor, serious and dangerous errors?

As you drive, your examiner will be marking any mistakes you make. You can commit up to 15 minor mistakes or faults and still pass, but the 16th will result in a fail. When it comes to serious or dangerous errors, making just a single one will see you fail.

But determining the category is up to the examiner, and it’s not always clear cut. It often depends on the circumstances.

So if you clip the pavement while performing a manoeuvre, that’s likely to be classed as a minor fault – unless there are pedestrians nearby, in which case it could count as a major.

And if you make the same minor mistake a few times, the examiner might decide to classify it as a major fault,too.

According to the DVSA, some of the most common faults that lead to outright failure are: not carrying out proper observation at junctions; not using mirrors correctly; and not being fully in control of steering.

Top tips for passing first time

In 2020/21, 51% of those taking their driving test for the first time were successful – up from 46.4% the previous year. Almost 4% of those passes scored zero faults – a stunning achievement!

So how did they do it? Here are our top tips to help you ace your driving tests!

1. Practise! While a qualified driving instructor is definitely the best person to teach you how to drive correctly, other experienced drivers can also help you get some practice under your belt.Learner driver insurance gives you the flexibility to learn with a friend or family member without putting their No Claims Bonus under threat.

2. Set realistic goals. Do you have a deadline by which you want to be driving? Goals can be helpful – but only if they’re achievable. It takes an average of 45 hours of formal driving lessons, plus 20 or so hours of driving with friends or family members, to pass your test. And you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you take longer than that – we’re all different, and it’s important that you learn at a pace that feels right for you.

3. Consider an intensive course. If you find it hard to commit to regular lessons, or just want to get your licence quickly, then consider taking time off work or study and learning intensively with a specialist provider such as Red Driving School. There are all sorts of options available, from daily two-hour sessions to several consecutive days of back-to-back lessons.

4. Learn your Highway Code. OK, so it’s not the most exciting book you’ll ever read. But it really is your passport to road trips, adventures, freedom and independence, so study it thoroughly. You can also find free test questions online or buy test books. Remember – this knowledge is designed to keep you and other road users safe, so it will prove vital throughout your driving career.

5. Ask your friends to help. If they can supervise you while you drive, that’s brilliant. But even if they aren’t drivers themselves, they can help you revise by asking you test questions. Perhaps you could even partner up with a fellow learner for mutual support?

6. Learn the ‘show me, tell me’ questions. These are all available on the government website, and there are only 21 possible questions in total. So there’s really nothing stopping you from learning them all by heart, so that the answer trips off your tongue.

7. Keep up-to-date with advice. You may well get older people telling you that the theory test is a doddle. That might have been the case 20 years ago, but it certainly isn’t now: less than half of people pass. They will be the ones who took it seriously and did their revision!

8. Watch YouTube videos. There’s no shortage of helpful stuff online. If you’re having trouble with a particular element, such as reversing or performing an emergency stop, then search for a specific tutorial. But always trust your driving instructor over and above any YouTube guide!

9. Do a mock test. Your own instructor can act as examiner for you. Not only is it a good way to check how competent you really are, it also gives you much-needed test practice. You might well find it very unnerving to drive without being directed, even though you know your instructor is ready to apply the brakes or take the wheel if necessary. So it’s best to get used to the experience before the big day!

10. Carry out some dry runs. You won’t know in advance the exact route your examiner will take you. But you do know that you’ll have to drive out of the test centre, so check you’re fully comfortable with the first couple of junctions, and learn how to deal with any hazards in the immediate area. Getting off to a good start on your practical test will boost your confidence hugely.

10. Sleep well before the test. If you’ve taken GCSEs, A Levels or other exams, you’ll know how important it is to be in tip-top condition on the crucial day. So even if all your mates are going out, you need to stay at home and get an early night.

11. Be prepared. Get everything together well before the test, such as glasses if you need them. Check the latest Covid regulations, and make sure you’ve got a well-fitting yet breathable mask if necessary. A last-minute rush could put you in a panic! Leave plenty of time to get to the test centre – though ideally, not so much time that you have to hang around for too long.

12. Stay calm during the test. If you feel yourself getting tense, try to relax by taking a few deep breaths. If you don’t understand something, ask your examiner to repeat the instructions. Remember that you can make minor mistakes and still pass, so if you see your examiner making marks on their clipboard, or know you’ve made an error, don’t assume that you’ve failed. Keep driving carefully but confidently.

13. Stay safe! Sometimes, you can be so determined to focus on the details like the correct placement of your hands on the steering wheel, that you miss the bigger picture – like pedestrians stepping out in front of you. Your examiner will take action to prevent an accident, but any dangerous error is obviously an immediate fail.

14. Go at your own pace when reversing. It’s not a speed test! Trying to rush your way through these manoeuvres will impress nobody, and could be the difference between a pass and a fail.

15. Pretend the examiner isn’t there! This applies to the independent driving element. Just focus on the road and what the signs or sat nav are telling you. You might find it easier to imagine the silent person in the passenger seat is a sleeping friend!

If, despite all your preparations, you fail your test, don’t be too disheartened. Treat it as a learning experience, take some more lessons, and rebook your test. You’ll get there!

Get a quote from Smartdriverclub today

At Smartdriverclub, we want to support you to become a confident, careful and qualified driver. So we offer time-limited learner driver insurance to keep you covered while you’re getting your full licence.

We provide telematics or ‘black box’ cover. This means you’re given a device that you plug into your car which monitors how well you’re driving. You can then view the analysis of your driving behaviour on a smartphone app and learn how to improve your driver score.

It’s a great system for learners. So get a quote, and start learning great driving habits today!

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.